Monday, May 11, 2015

A BULLET FOR BIG JIM

5/11/1920 - The calm before the storm comes to an end for Chicago's criminal underworld when leading mob boss James "Big Jim" Colosimo is assassinated in the front vestibule of his own restaurant ... at the behest of the men he has brought from New York City to help run his organization, John "Papa John" Torrio and Al "Scarface" Capone.
James "Big Jim" Colosimo.jpg

Born in the town of Colosimi, Province of Cosenza, Italy, in 1878, Colosimo emigrates to Chicago at the age of 17.  Starting as a petty criminal, Colosimo comes under the tutelage of First Ward aldermen Michael "Hinky Dinky" Kenna and "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and learns how to mix crime and politics ... lessons the young man learns well as he grows a prostitution empire in the city of over 200 brothels (the first comes his way through marriage in 1902, when he hooks up with the madame of the establishment, Victoria Moresco) by the time of his death, becoming (along with "Big Jim") "Diamond Jim" for his like of wearing white suits accompanied by diamond pins, rings, and other sparkly jewelry.  With prostitution as the springboard, Colosimo also becomes involved in gambling and other underworld activities, doing so well that he needs help running the day-to-day racket business, and with protecting him from hostile takeovers and blackmail attempts (in 1920 he is headquartered in Colosimo's Cafe at 2126 South Wabash, a joint full of gilt and velvet featuring a world class chef, a finely stocked liquor cellar, top entertainers of the day and an orchestra, and gambling upstairs).  And so, the criminal nephew of his wife is brought out from New York City to become Colosimo's second-in-command, Johnny Torrio.
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Torrio - 1936

Torrio in turn, a neighbor from their Brooklyn days, brings 20-year-old Al Capone to Chicago from his job working as a bouncer at mobster Frankie Yale's New York nightclub, The Harvard Inn (a decision made so that things can cool off for Capone in the Big Apple after he almost beats to death a member of William Lovett's White Hand Gang). Mind and muscle integrated into the organization (one day to be known by its current moniker, The Outfit), the cancer Colosimo has brought to Chicago does not fully metastasize until the advent of Prohibition.
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Capone - 1930

Recognizing there are immense profits to made in bootleg liquor, in 1920 Torrio and Capone pitch their boss on entering the illegal alcohol business, but Colosimo is having none of it, claiming expansion into the racket will put his organization in the bulls eye of law enforcement and rival gangs (exactly what eventually does happen).  He does not want to spend the time, energy, and resources dealing with illicit booze ... not when it takes time away from naked noodling with his new wife, 26-year-old nightclub singer Dale Winter.

Winter & Colosimo

Love at first sight for Colosimo when Winter auditions for a singing position at the cafe, or lust fevered by going through a mid-life crisis, the gangster is soon spending most of his time with the young beauty, totally smitten (on stage she wears clingy white dresses set off by a single red rose worn over her heart) ... engaging Enrico Caruso and the Chicago Opera Company's maestro to hear her sing (they give her the thumbs up), enrolling her in the Chicago School of Music.  Divorcing Moresco, Colosimo and Winter elope to French Lick, Indiana, where the gangster hires a touring circus to entertain guests at his marriage reception, then after a honeymoon in the town of West Baden, Indianan, the couple return to set up housekeeping at the mobster's mansion at 3156 South Vernon.  Happy as a clam, his proteges will remind him that he can not escape his criminal roots.
The Hot Ticket

Convinced their boss has to go (and now with the divorce, Torrio is no longer related to him), Torrio and Capone get the approval of Colosimo Italian allies, the Genna Brothers and Joe Aiello, to take out the gangster.  Hit okayed, they then recruit the help of their closest New York criminal friend ... Frankie Yale will come to Chicago to rid the boys of their problem (there is also a theory that Capone actually does the trigger work).  Finally, Torrio sets up Colosimo by calling the man and telling him that the gang has lucked into a two-truck delivery of pre-Prohibition whiskey from local crook Jim O'Leary (the son of the family with the cow said to have started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871) that will be delivered to the cafe at 4:00 in the afternoon. Hands on when it comes to the cafe that bears his name, Colosimo states he will be there when the liquor shows up.
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Aiello, "Bloody" Angelo Genna, Yale

On Tuesday, a little before the designated time, Colosimo arrives at the cafe and goes to his office in the back, saying hello to his bookkeeper, Frank Camilla, calling his lawyer, and talking to a few other employees in the back room.  Business there completed, he then goes up front to be await the arrival of the whiskey and moments later, sounding like a tire has blown out, two gunshots ring out.  While the cafe's chef checks to see if the noises are coming from the alley, Camilla goes to the front of the establishment and finds Colosimo on the ground, a pool of blood collecting on the floor.  Two shots fired, one puts a hole in the plaster wall twenty feet away near the cashier booth, and the other causes a fatal head wound to Colosimo behind the gangster's right ear; a deadly surprise, Colosimo's pearl-handled .38 revolver never leaves the dead man's pocket.
Colosimo's Cafe at 2126 South Wabash
Big Jim

Dead, Colosimo is honored by the men that ordered his execution and has one of the largest gangland funeral's in the history of Chicago, with several florists selling out on flowers.  Resting in a silver and mahogany casket worth $7,500, in a ceremony served by fifty-three pallbearers, the mobster is wished goodbye by his new bride, three municipal judges, aldermen from throughout the city, a congressman, an assistant state attorney, and an assortment of underworld characters that include Torrio and Capone (following an old country tradition, in mourning, Capone does not shave from the time of the murder until Colosimo is laid to rest).  The cortege that takes Colosimo to Oakwood Cemetary swells to 5,000 people and stretches over a mile, and includes a 10 minute stop in front of the dead man's cafe for two brass bands to play a dirge.   
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The Funeral

Another homicide for the Chicago police not to solve, suspicion first falls on Colosimo's former wife and her not happy family, then attention is turned to Torrio and Capone (both provide alibis that are believed), and finally to Yale (a waiter who first identifies the New Yorker as the killer, but then negates his testimony when confronted by the gangster in person) ... but it is a crime that can never be proved.  Justice of a sort though does come to those involved ... a year after the murder the former wife drops out of sight and is never seen again, Torrio will almost be gunned down on his front lawn by members of Chicago's North Side Gang (deciding immediately afterwards to retire from the rackets, Torrio will spend two years in prison for income tax evasion and die as a legit businessman in Brooklyn at the age of 75), Capone will become infamous as the power running the Windy City until convicted of income tax evasion in 1931 (released from prison after he becomes a drooling moron from the effects of an untreated case of syphilis, Capone dies in Florida in 1947 at the age of 48), and Frankie Yale gets his in a hail of bullets in New York in 1928 at the age of 35 by Capone gunners (friendship frayed over the years, Capone turns on his former buddy when he discovers Yale has been hijacking booze belonging to Scarface making its way from Canada to Chicago).

Yale Death Scene

Free to run The Outfit as they now see fit, with Torrio in command and Capone as his right arm, the violent deaths in Chicago have just begun!

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